WASHINGTON -- Branch Davidian cult leader David Koresh was preparing to surrender when federal agents launched the final raid on his compound near Waco, Texas, attorneys for the sect told Congress yesterday.
The attorneys told a House inquiry that Koresh wanted more time to write a religious essay and that he would then surrender.
"We were on the way to doing that. It would have ended peacefully," said Dick DeGuerin, Koresh's attorney during the siege.
"We had a deal. We were going to do it," said Jack Zimmermann, an attorney who represented Koresh lieutenant Steve Schneider. "Some desk-bound bureaucrat in Washington overrode all that."
But Richard Scruggs, an assistant to the attorney general, told reporters the FBI acted properly in the face of Koresh's "lies and misrepresentations." FBI records show that Koresh promised to surrender on at least three other occasions, but changed his mind.
The FBI assaulted the compound on April 19, 1993, using armored vehicles to spread tear gas. A fire erupted, killing Koresh and 74 other sect members inside.
Yesterday's testimony marked the first concerted effort by witnesses to paint Koresh in a favorable light. Previous witnesses, including a 14-year-old girl who lived in the Waco compound, had described Koresh as a maniacal cult leader who coerced children to have sex with him, stockpiled illegal weapons and spoke often of a fiery death that would take him and his followers closer to God.
Under pointed questioning by Rep. Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat, both attorneys acknowledged that Koresh was probably guilty of several criminal acts.
While Mr. DeGuerin said repeatedly that he was not at the hearing to defend Koresh, he described Koresh as reasonable, rational and "deeply committed and sincere about his religious beliefs."
He said he suggested that Koresh surrender to Texas Rangers rather than federal agents. It was the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms that launched the initial raid of the compound on Feb. 28, 1993, ending in a firefight that killed four ATF agents and six Davidians. The FBI directed the subsequent 51-day siege.
Mr. Zimmermann said Koresh and the attorneys worked out a plan for surrendering peacefully, although no date was set.
On April 14, Koresh told the attorneys he had received a message from God and that he would surrender after writing a religious essay. In it, he would interpret the Seven Seals of the Bible's Book of Revelations.
A scholar of religious studies said in written testimony to the
hearing that Koresh's decision to write the lengthy essay gave him the ability to tell his followers he was following God's will and then surrender without appearing to betray his and their beliefs.
"He had received his long-awaited guidance from God who now instructed him to surrender," said J. Phillip Arnold, a religious studies scholar at the Reunion Institute in Houston.
The testimony included a copy of a letter Koresh wrote about his vision-inspired plan. "I hope to finish this as soon as possible and to stand before man to answer any and all questions regarding my actions," Koresh wrote in the letter, which he gave to Mr. DeGuerin.
"We told them [the FBI] we would need another 10 to 12 days," said Mr. Zimmermann.
Witnesses scheduled to testify today include former FBI Deputy Director Larry Potts, former Associate Attorney General Webster Hubbell and former White House counsel Bernard W. Nussbaum.